The Angry Affluent Liberal

By | 2018-08-31T21:02:56+00:00 August 30th, 2018|
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Sarah Jeong’s nasty tweets raise a personal question, not a political one: why is she so bitter when she has enjoyed so much success?

Her animus against white people sounds like a teen version of 1960s-era race radicals who demonized the white race as, in Susan Sontag’s infamous words, “the cancer of human history.” The ascent of this nonwhite, nonmale who doesn’t seem particularly astute or witty should produce the happy recognition that the long dominance of one identity group, white men, has diminished. Liberalism is winning—rejoice!

No gratitude from her, though, or from others, either. The Atlantic’s former correspondent Ta-Nehisi Coates has made millions from his writings and speeches (his MacArthur award alone brought in $625,000), but that hasn’t blunted his anti-American rancor.

Women have earned more bachelor’s degrees and doctorates than men for many years, but feminists haven’t slowed their complaints about an enduring patriarchy.

When multiculturalists entered higher education in the 1970s and ’80s, they insisted that Western civilization move over and make room for “other” cultures and traditions. Now that Western Civ requirements have disappeared and “diversity” requirements have proliferated, though, we see more accusations of an alignment of Western civilization with white supremacy than we did 20 years ago (as with the response to President Trump’s magnificent speech in Warsaw).

Humanities professors, nearly all of them liberal or leftist, lead blessed lives in the bucolic enclaves of rich, selective schools, but I don’t know of any labor group that grumbles so much about the national condition (especially as measured by the election of President Trump).

A Comprehensive Mindset
Now, when people’s personal circumstances run squarely against their political judgments, something funny is going on in their heads. Way back in the 19th century, Friedrich Nietzsche saw it clearly and gave it a name: ressentiment.

He liked the French word because it signified more than just the common feeling of resentment. Ressentiment is a comprehensive mindset that wants to tear down distinguished things, to tarnish heroes, deny superior talents, and discount success. Think of the line “You didn’t build that,” or of more attention in U.S. history paid to Anita Hill than to Clarence Thomas.

The first impulse of ressentiment is to detract. It resents that which has seemed superior, eminent, and great—all because those things make the man of resentment feel weak and inferior and small. He aims for equality, but gets us there by negation. He doesn’t raise the underprivileged. He berates the privileged. He didn’t congratulate America when it elected Barack Obama. He pounced on every ensuing criticism of him as race-based. He reads the Gospels and wonders more about why all the disciples are men than about what the parables mean.

And he loathes the slogan “Make America Great Again.” American greatness, in his view, is just American power, which grew from the toil of slaves and the cheating of the Indians and imperialist ventures in the Philippines and Central America.

So, when things go well, they rob the man of ressentiment of the joy of accusation. Behind the solemn professions of compassion and benevolence that liberals attach to their favored state policies and legal decisions is the opposite: a spirit of vengeance. If it weren’t there, liberals when they prosper wouldn’t hold on to their spite.

Too Much Acrimony to Let Go
The facts of their own lives are against them. If America and the West are packed with injustice of all kinds, social, economic, and political, how have they done so well? Only a twisted viewpoint can explain it away. When they hear that black unemployment is at a historic low, logic and reason call it American progress, not American racism. When America takes in a record number of 14 million immigrants from 2000 to 2010, it counts as miraculous and generous, not insufficient.

But they don’t want to compliment their nation. Ressentiment never does.

Liberals such as Sarah Jeong have stored up too much acrimony against white males in America for their advancement to water it down. It is going to take a long time and many, many words of condemnation uttered by them before the identity politicians of the left, no matter how much they thrive, work off their resentment and apprehend the truth that the vicious country they continue to envision doesn’t exist.

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About the Author:

Mark Bauerlein
Mark Bauerlein is a senior editor at First Things and professor of English at Emory University, where he has taught since earning his Ph.D. in English at UCLA in 1989. For two years (2003-2005) he served as director of the Office of Research and Analysis at the National Endowment for the Arts. His books include Literary Criticism: An Autopsy, The Pragmatic Mind: Explorations in the Psychology of Belief, and The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future. His essays have appeared in PMLA, Partisan Review, Wilson Quarterly, Commentary, and New Criterion, and his commentaries and reviews in the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Boston Globe, The Guardian, Chronicle of Higher Education, and other national periodicals.